What You Need to Know Before Purchasing a Rubber Lipped Pleco

Lately, you’ve been dreaming of having your own suckermouth pleco, but don’t really want to look after a 2 feet long monster.

The rubber lipped pleco’s size should come in handy.

To have someone furiously cleaning the tank for you is a luxury, right?

But will rubber lip plecostomus really snack on algae?

Do they require extensive care? Are they as aggressive as their larger cousins?

Here are your Aquanswers…

What you should know about the rubber lipped pleco

Rubber lip plecos are bottom-dwelling fish that belong to the Chaetostoma genus.

Chaetostome is part of the largest family of catfish – the suckermouth armored catfishes.

Besides “Rubber lip pleco”, other common names are striped Rubbernose pleco, striped or blonde bulldog pleco, Chaetostoma sp. L444.

They have specially enlarged gills speculated to serve the purpose of breathing while being attached or feeding.

They are also avid algae consumers (under certain conditions).

A common misconception

Fish stores often confuse the RL with the Rubber pleco (Parancistrus aurantiacus) and falsely advertise them as one another.

The most distinctive differences between the two, in layman’s terms, are the maximum growth size and the coloration.

Rubber lips have spots on their head where the rubber pleco (also known as Chubby pleco) has somewhat crossed stripes.

A true RL pleco will reach no more than 4.5 inches in growth and will not experience a dramatic change of color. On the opposite side, the rubber plecos reach up to 7 inches, later shifting from grey to gold-ish coloration.

I’ve chosen two photos with a pronounced distinctive coloration so that you could compare them.

Here’s how a rubber lipped pleco (Chaetostoma formosae) looks like:


Image by: Mark Smith

And here’s how a rubber (Chubby) pleco looks:

Image by: Mark Smith

I’ve never had the luck to witness mine become gold, as it appears the fish decides when that will happen and if it will happen.

However, when it comes to differences that’s about it.

Both of these plecos have similar needs in terms of care (except, of course, tank size) hence the common confusion.

If you already bought yours or plan to get one soon you will be satisfied with either.

Don’t worry if you’ve got the Rubber pleco, this guide is for you as well.

They grow really slow. You’ll have your time to prepare a bigger tank later on.

Expected max size of a Rubber Lipped Pleco

This species of pleco remains relatively tiny compared to its brothers:

A rubber lip won’t outgrow 4.2 inches (10.6 cm). The rubber pleco, as established, will reach about 7 inches (17.7 cm), which is still not near enough a Common pleco.

In small tanks (20 gallons) they should reach about 5 inches at max, before being relocated to a larger one.

They are also slow growers, so don’t be bothered if yours does not hit these numbers soon after its arrival.

I’ve had mine add about an inch in one and a half years.

Bear in mind that this does not mean you can stick either in anything under 20 G.

They may not grow much, but they do require their scavenging space.

They can also get territorial among each other, other plecos or any catfish, for that matter.

If you’d like to enjoy more than one I’d strongly suggest that you provide them with at least 55 gallons of a fish tank for starters.

If it’s a long well-planted one – even better.

Diet & foods

RL plecos eat algae almost exclusively unlike other species of pleco. Though they are classified as omnivores they would much prefer sticking to a herbivorous diet.

However, it is possible for them to lose interest in the natural growth of your aquarium.

Once they get comfortable with externally-supplied foods (meaning you feeding them) that deviate from a mainly algae-based diet they may give up on your aquarium’s algae.

This only happens in extreme cases when they were fed this way from an early age.

With practice, I learned that it is really best if I purchased mine when they were young.

When I’m about to get one I always ask the guys at the store to give them some veggie or algae wafers, just to make sure they will eat it.

Young ones are just under 2 inches.

If you’re hoping that they will keep your algae growth under control you’d need to confirm that they are still interested in that.

I had this one rubber lip who would eat anything BUT algae…

I can’t say it was a waste of money, as I really like these creatures, but rather a waste of talent.

A single RL pleco can demolish a heavily algae-infested 20-gallon tank in just under two weeks.

Or so I’ve witnessed in my personal experience.

Another reason they may not be interested in cleaning up a tank is not enough CO2 for your plants.

Such conditions favor the algae allowing it to fortify its cell walls.

This makes it harder and therefore unappetizing to fish. Learn more about that in the guide I wrote on exterminating black algae for good.

By the way, rubber lip plecos do eat black algae, along with green, blue and brown algae.

They can definitely be placed among the ultimate algae-destroying machines.

You can learn more about top-performing algae-eating fish (and not only) here, in my guide.

That being said you should never count on algae growth alone for your RL pleco’s diet.

They also love eating:

  • Zucchini (preferably fresh)
  • Spinach
  • Romaine lettuce
  • Spirulina
  • Peas
  • Cucumber
  • Seaweed algae sheets
  • Algae Wafers

Their diet should be almost entirely plant-based.

Here and there you can drop them some meat though, but don’t overdo it.

They can eat freeze-dried bloodworms, tubifex worm or brine shrimp.

High-quality flake food will be alright too.

In some occasions, people report they would eat carnivore pellets as well.

Expected lifespan

With good care, the RL plecos will live up to 12 years.

Stress can have an impact on their well-being as with every other fish.

Make sure you put yours in a friendly environment, avoiding aggressive aquariums.

Behavior & compatibility

Rubber lips don’t like aggressive tank mates.

They are very peaceful by nature.

All they would want to do is lie around or comfortably hide in an artificial cave.

They are a good addition to a community tank.

RL plecos will not really bother your other fish, unless there are other plecos, as they get a tiny bit territorial among each other.

This can be avoided by providing them with plenty of space to roam.

They also like to hide under or hanging out on smooth surfaced round rocks that resemble the bottom of a river.

Naturally, they LOVE having some driftwood around.

If you haven’t any, I have a pretty decent guide on where to find such wood.

It’s a part of their natural habitat.

My observations are that if they could they would forever glue themselves on it.

Anyway, they will be more active if nothing is stressing them but are an overall shy fish.

Whenever I was watching my Galactic Algae Destroyer, as I named him, he would just stand still and pretend to be a statue.

As soon as I turn my back, however, he’d start moving around and switching hiding places.

These critters are mainly nocturnal and you won’t see them doing much before the lights go off.

After actively spying on them I figured that mine would come out during the night and go about their business.

It’s after dark when they will feed on your algae.

Rubber lip pleco-friendly conditions & Care tips

RL plecos really enjoy heavily planted aquariums, that are well-aerated.

A medium to high water flow is a must as their natural habitats are the rivers in Peru, South America.

They will greatly appreciate smooth stones or wood under a current for their chill spots.

They like to have hiding places, as they are not fond of others’ attention during daytime.

The minimum tank size for a single of these plecos is 20 gallons, but as this hobby goes, it’s always better to scale up the minimum requirements.

I’d say a 55 gal tank would make them happier.

A fully grown 7-inch specimen of Rubber pleco should be relocated to a 75 or a 100-gallon tank.

The pH levels of your tank water should be in the range of 6.5 to 8 and the KH levels – between 8 and 12. The general hardness of the water should be between 10 and 15°. An ideal temperature is 71 to 78 °F (21.5 to 25.5°C).

Breeding

Very rarely breeding in captive conditions has been reported.

This is due to the lack of sufficient water current in home aquariums.

In the wild, it goes like this: The male will attach himself upside down under a flat surface right above where the eggs were laid.

He will then protect them from predators. He will keep them safe from the stream with his fins.

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Tina Smith
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Tina Smith

Do you know where I can buy a rubber lip? None of the pet stores around me sell them. Can i buy them online?

Pam
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Pam

I have a new 45 gal.tank and one 4” gold fish (another story). I don’t have any live plants as I don’t know how to care for them. I have a good canister filter. Will a rubber lipped pleco be a good addition to my tank?

CJS
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CJS

I was gifted a RL pleco and sadly enough he didn’t last long before finding him dead in bottom of tank. I want to get another one eventually but worried about it happening again and they aren’t cheap at my LFS. I had to add some aquarium salt to my tank recently because a few fish were looking sick and they seem to be much better now. If the water in my tank has aquarium salt in it, could this harm a RL Pleco being a scaleless fish? Want to make sure my tank is perfect before trying to add… Read more »

David
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David

I can not find anyone that sells the Rubber lip, any suggestions? Desperate

Dana
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Dana

I searched for a L444 rubber lip but couldn’t find one, so I went with a Chaetostoma thomasi, L188a. It looks exactly like the fish in the first picture above. I purchased it about a year ago as a tankmate for my fancy goldfish. I think I ordered it from Live Aquaria (online store).They share a 55 gallon tank, planted with anubias & cryptocoryne, which are about the only plants that my goldfish leaves alone. I use a very large canister filter that keeps the water clean (goldfish are dirty) and creates a lot of water flow on one side… Read more »

Cheyenne
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Cheyenne

Hello!

I’ve recently purchased a new pleco a few days ago, he’s definitely not the first one I’ve had, and noticed something strange. He’s attaching himself upside-down to my aquatic plant, now reading this article I’d like to state I haven’t introduced him to a female nor even had a female. Is this behavior okay?

A reply would be well appreciated, but if not that’s fine too! 🙂

Note: other than this he’s acted completely normal

Lacie Harris
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Lacie Harris

Hi,I had just recently purchased a RL Pleco for a tank mate for my 2 goldfish. The 2 goldfish love colder water down to 68 degrees and I was wondering if that temp was too cold or okay for the fish?

Zai
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Zai

Would a rubber lipped pleco do okay in a planted 29gallon tank kept at 78 degrees?

Appryder
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Appryder

I have a 50 gallon corner tank with a school of 8 tiger barb(4 green platinum and 4 albino) and 8 barb(4 cherry and 4 gold). Would a RL work with these guys?

Justin S.
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Justin S.

I had a small algae outbreak so i went to my LFS in search of a pleco to tackle the job. my tanks temperature stays between 76-78°f i asked the person in the LFS which pleco would be a good tank mate and described my other fish and i was sold the rubber lip mostly cause my wife said it was cuter then the other choices. Ive had him/her for well over 3 months now the algae is gone so i had to go buy algae tablets cause well dont want the lil guy starving to death. so far ive… Read more »

Lindsay
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Lindsay

can i have one rubber lip in a 30 gal with two goldfish and an apple snail? I am getting the tank soon and want to know if it would make a good edition.